WATCH THE SERIES: Death Wish (1974, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1994, 2018)

With The Cannon Canon celebrating Bronson Don’t Like May(onnaise) this month, I decided to watch some Bronson and bring back several of his films. Seeing as how I’ve done an entire Death Wish week before, why not just put them all in one review for easy reading?

Death Wish (1974): New York City in 1974 must have felt like the end of the world. Based on the 1972 novel by Brian Garfield, Death Wish was the answer. In fact, in many theaters, the audience stood up and cheered as Paul Kersey got his bloody revenge for the crims visited upon him and his family.

The film we’re about to discuss went through many twists and turns as it made its way to the screen. Originally, it ended with the vigilante hero confronting the thugs who attacked his family and them killing him, police detective Ochoa discovering his weapon and deciding to follow in his footsteps. And get this — the first choice to play the lead was Jack Lemmon, with Henry Fonda as Ochoa and Sidney Lumet directing.

Finally, United Artists picked the gritty action veteran Michael Winner to direct. Several studios rejected the film due to its subject matter and the difficulty of casting the lead. Winner wanted Bronson, who he’d worked with in the past, but the actor’s agent hated the message of the film and Bronson felt that the book was about a weak man, someone he would not be playing on film.

Death Wish turned Bronson, who was 53 at the time of its release, into a major star known worldwide. It’s a movie made exactly for its time. Despite its lurid subject matter and dangerous acceptance of its hero’s actions, it’s still a great exploitation film that actually explores the why behind its hero’s actions instead of just setting him loose upon people.

Paul Kersey (Bronson) starts the movie in Hawaii with his wife Joanna. When they return home to the squalid streets of New York City, it’s only days before three thugs — including Jeff Goldblum! — invade their apartment, raping their daughter Carol and bearing Joanna so badly that she dies.  Beyond Goldblum in this early role, keep an eye open for Christopher Guest and Olympia Dukakis as cops, as well as Sonia Manzano (Maria from Sesame Street, who was dating director Winner at the time and suggested that Herbie Hancock do the score) and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington from TV’s Welcome Back, Kotter) in supporting roles.

As he recovers from his wife’s death, Paul is mugged. He fights back and chases off his attacker and finds new strength from the battle. An architect by trade, Paul heads to Tucson where he helps Ames Jainchill with his residential development project. After work one night, he goes to a gun club with Ames, where we learn how good of a shot Paul is. Turns out he was a conscientious objector and combat medic who was taught marksmanship by his father, but promised his mother he’d never pick up another gun after his dad was killed in a hunting accident. On the way back home, Paul discovers that Ames has given him a gun as a gift.

Now back home, Paul learns from his son-in-law that his daughter is still catatonic and would be better off in a mental hospital. That night, when walking, Paul is mugged again but he has the gun with him. He fights back and kills the mugger, but even that action causes him to grow physically sick. But soon, he’s prowling the mean streets and looking for a fight.

Before long, NYPD detective Lt. Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) begins investigating the vigilante killings and quickly narrows down his suspect list to Paul. As the manhunt gets closer and closer, Paul finally is caught after passing out from blood loss after a shootout. Instead of arresting him, the NYPD wants the case quietly solved, so they send him off to Chicago. The minute he arrives, he helps a woman who was almost mugged and stares at the criminals with a smile, his fingers in the shape of a gun.

There’s a story which may be apocryphal, but when Michael Winner told Bronson what this film would be about — a man who goes out and shoots muggers — Bronson replied, “I’d like to do that.” Winner said, “The film?” And Bronson replied, “No. Shoot muggers.”

After viewing the film, author Brian Garfield hated how the film advocated vigilantism, so he wrote a sequel called Death Sentence that was made into a movie in 2007 starring Kevin Bacon. No word on whether or not he hated that movie too, as it only keeps a little of the book.

Compared to the heights of mayhem that this series will descend to, this is a retrained meditation of a man facing an increasingly violent world. Stay tuned. Paul Kersey is just getting started.

Death Wish II (1982): Paul Kersey can’t catch a break. Seriously, in this sequel, he goes through the Trials of Job all over again. You think he went through some bad stuff in the first movie? Michael Winner is just getting started putting our vigilante hero through hell on earth.

Paul has taken his daughter Jordan and moved to Los Angeles, where he’s found love again with radio reporter Geri Nichols (Bronson’s wife, Jill Ireland). However, horror and pain is never far from Kersey, so one day at a fair, some punks steal his wallet. He chases one of them down named Jiver down and teaches him a lesson. The gang — Nirvana, Punkcut, Stomper and Cutter (Laurence Fishburne) — find his address in his wallet and pay a visit to his house. They rape his housekeeper Rosario, beat Paul into la la land and steal his daughter (this time played by Robin Sherwood from Tourist Trap). After raping her, she goes even deeper into her depression and jumps out a window, falling to her death and getting impaled like she’s Nikos Karamanlis or Niko Tanopoulos.

Of course, Paul doesn’t need help from the cops. He only needs one thing: to give in to the rage within, to become the vigilante once more. Det. Frank Ochoa is back to chase him one more time, as he’s the only one who can track him.

Soon, Paul is wiping out the gang one by one, his own personal safety and relationship with Geri be damned. This is the first time we discover that Kersey is able to do magical things like make fake IDs with just a Xerox machine and talk his way into anywhere and out of anything. By the end of this film, he’s gone from a man whose life has been destroyed to a walking angel of death willing to do whatever it takes to kill everyone that’s crossed him.

To be as authentic as possible, this movie was shot in the sleaziest parts of Los Angeles, such as the abandoned and crumbling Hollywood Hotel location. Many of the film’s extras were local color who were either hired to play a bit part or just walked over to the set, such as drug addicts, drag queens, Hare Krishnas and bikers. Even crazier, Bronson’s alcoholic brother was a frequent set visitor, constantly asking for money. Bronson wanted to be careful not to give him too much cash so that he wouldn’t be mugged, but that brother was soon found dead, stabbed in the ass.

My favorite part of this was the score, composed by Jimmy Page in his first post-Led Zeppelin musical appearance here by creating the film’s soundtrack. It’s almost surreal to hear his signature guitar tone over Bronson killing rapists.

You can get this on UHD from Vinegar Syndrome.

Death Wish 3 (1985): Paul Kersey is back in New York City, despite being kicked out at the end of the first Death Wish. His Korean War buddy Charley has invited him to ask for help as his East New York apartment building has been under attack by a gang. Paul gets there just in time for his friend to die in his arms and the police arrest him for the murder. Inspector Richard Shriker recognizes him as the vigilante from back in the first movie, so he throws him into a holding cell with the leader of the gang, Manny Fraker (Gavan O’Herlihy, son of Halloween 3: Season of the Witch bad guy par excellence Dan O’Herlihy). After a fistfight ensues, the villain gets released before Paul. If you think that’s the end of all of this, you haven’t been reading our website this week.

Shriker offers our hero a deal: kill all the punks you want, but inform him of any activity so that he can get a big bust and make the news. With that, we’re off and to the races in what is not only the craziest of the Death Wish movies, but perhaps the most bonkers movie you’ll ever see.

Paul moves into his dead friend’s apartment and into a warzone. He makes friends with the other tenants, including World War II vet Bennett Cross (Martin Balsam from Psycho), a kindly old Jewish couple named Mr. and Mrs. Kaprov, a young Hispanic couple named Rodriguez and Maria (a pre-Star Trek: The Next Generation Marina Sirtis who in real life is a Greek girl born in London). There’s even a young kid who continually walks into the path of gunfire. Obviously, this is a neighborhood made for Paul Kersey. It is, as my wife pointed out, Sesame Street where people die horribly.

Paul uses a car as bait for the gang, killing two who break into it. And he saves Maria twice, but the third time, the gang takes her and she soon dies in the hospital, not knowing the most important rule of Death Wish: if you are a woman, stay away from Paul Kersey.

That’s when Paul orders a .475 caliber Wildey Magnum, a gun that has the same muzzle velocity as a .44 Magnum at 1000 yards. This big bore handgun, as Danny Vermin once said, “shoots through schools.” He traps The Giggler by putting his new camera where he knows the criminal can steal it, then he blows him into another dimension with his gigantic handcannon. “I can’t believe they got The Giggler, man,” laments the punk rock gang.

Why this gun?  Well, it was Bronson’s personal handgun in real life. According to the gun’s inventor and the film’s technical consultant, Wildey Moore, sales for the Wildey Magnum increase whenever this film airs on TV.

You know who else didn’t get that memo about dating Paul? Public defender Kathryn Davis (Deborah Raffin, The Sentinel), who dates our hero long enough for him to joke that he likes opera and for mohawked punk gang leader Manny to shove the car she is waiting for Paul in toward oncoming traffic, where it explodes in a giant fireball.

Shriker decides that enough is enough and he puts Paul into protective custody. But after the gang blows up Bennett’s taxi garage, the old man tries to use the ancient Browning .30 machine gun that Charley brought back from the war. Sadly, the ancient detective from Psycho is no Roadblock from G.I. Joe and he’s quickly beaten into near death by the gang. Paul is allowed to visit him at the hospital and quickly makes a break to defend his new friends once and for all.

There’s another big machine gun, so Paul and Rodriguez use it to kill every single gangbanger they can before they run out of ammo, just as their neighbors finally come to arms to help them. What follows is what can only be described as sheer orgasmic violence, as hundreds of stunts all happen at the same time. Grenades are thrown from motorcycles. Handgun blasts send people flying through glass windows. Fire is everywhere. And there’s Paul Kersey, walking cooly and doing what he does best: killing punk rock criminals of all colors, races and creeds, including a very young Alex Winter.

Finally, Manny almost kills Paul, but he’s saved by Shriker, who is wounded by the punker but succeeds in shooting him. Kersey calls for an ambulance just as Manny rises, showing his bulletproof vest. In a moment that will live in my mind forever, Paul shoots him dead in the chest with an M72 LAW rocket and sends him flying through the side of the building as his girlfriend (Barbie Wilde, the female Cenobite from Hellraiser) screams in pain, their psychic link obviously broken like Cyclops and Jean Grey on the dark side of the moon. The gang realizes they’re beaten as the cops show up in force, with Kersey simply walking away.

Death Wish 3 is many things, but none of them are subtle. It’s a sledgehammer blow to your sensibilities, a veritable tour of depravity and sadism. It’s also entertaining as hell. Bronson hated  Don Jakoby’s (Invaders from MarsLifeforce and a frequent collaborator of Dan O’Bannon, with whom he wrote an unproduced script called Pinocchio the Robot that would have featured Lee Marvin as Geppetto!) script and the fact that they turned Paul Kersey into Rambo, but he got $1.5 million for starring in this movie. Frequent rewrites led to Jakoby taking his name off the film and he’s listed as Michael Edmonds.

All told, 74 people die in Death Wish 3, as detailed in this completely amazing article. They are stabbed, shot, run over, set on fire and more. They fall from tall buildings. They are thrown from tall buildings. And there’s a gang that combines all races and creeds — except old people — including white supremacists, punk rockers and lovers of reggae. It is the rainbow coalition of death. There was also a video game that lives up to the violence on screen.

The film also includes a rape scene with the victim played by Sandy Grizzle, who was the girlfriend of director Michael Winner. After they broke up, she reported to London tabloids that this was part of him treating her as a sex slave. Winner sued the News of the World tabloid and won.

Before you scoff at this notion, keep in mind that Winner spent six days filming the rape scene in Death Wish 2, a movie that took from May to July of 1981 to shoot. Also, following the allegations made against Harvey Weinstein in 2017, Winner was accused by three women of demanding they expose their breasts to him. Seeing as how he’s not around to refute the charges, let’s just move on.

Beyond these rumors, Winner was the kind of special individual that almost died from eating dinner — twice. He got the bacterial infection vibrio vulnificus from eating an oyster in Barbados, nearly losing his leg and his life. Then, years later, he’d almost die from food poisoning after eating steak tartare four days in a row. He died in 2013 at the age of 77.

Let’s ignore the gossip on Michael Winner and concentrate on how awesome Death Wish 3 is. Because wow, they literally can’t, don’t — and some folks would say probably shouldn’t — make them like this anymore.

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987): Where do you go after the utter lunacy that is Death Wish 3? Well, you replace Michael Winner with J. Lee Thompson, who was the director for The Guns of Navarone, the original Cape Fear, the slashtastic Happy Birthday to Me and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud amongst many other films. He’d already worked with Bronson on 10 to MidnightMurphy’s Law and The Evil That Men Do and would also direct Bronson in Messenger of Death and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects after this movie wrapped. In fact, counting St. Ives, The White Buffalo and Caboblanco, they’d work on seven movies together.

Paul Kersey hasn’t learned anything from the last three movies. He has a new girlfriend, Karen Sheldon (Kay Lenz, The Initiation of SarahHouse) with a teenage daughter named Erica (Dana Barron, the original Audrey from National Lampoon’s Vacation) that you shouldn’t get to know all that well. That’s because — surprise! — she overdoses thanks to her boyfriend and her getting into crack cocaine and doing it an arcade. If you’re shocked that a Death Wish movie would prey upon the worst fears of America’s middle class, then you may have watched the last three films too.

Paul loved that girl like his own daughter, probably because she wanted to be an architect like him and also possibly because he hasn’t yet learned that the moment that he says something like that, tragedy is right around the corner. Honestly, the main message of the Death Wish films is that God hates Paul Kersey, will not allow him to die and will wait until he finds happiness again before visiting upon him great suffering, only for the cycle to repeat.

The night she died, Paul saw Erica smoke a joint with her boyfriend and was already suspecting the young dude, so he follows him back to the arcade the next night. That boyfriend confronts Jojo and Jesse (Tim Russ, Commander Tuvok himself!), two of the dealers who sold them the crack cocaine, and threatens to go to the police. This being a Death Wish film, they kill him pretty much in public. That murder unlocks the ability for Paul to start killing again, so he shoots Jojo and launches his body on to the top of bumper cars, where he’s electrocuted. No one dies in a Death Wish movie without a flourish.

Meanwhile, Paul gets a call from tabloid publisher Nathan White (John P. Ryan from It’s Alive), who knows that he’s the vigilante. His daughter had also become addicted to drugs and died, so he knows what Paul is going through. The storyline becomes pretty much like The Punisher’s first mini-series where The Trust paid for him to wipe out crime, as White funds Paul’s one man war against drugs while his girlfriend starts writing an expose on the two rival gangs in town.

To cut down the budget in this movie, when Paul and Nathan meet in the movie theater, that’s Cannon’s screening room.

One of those gangs is led by Ed Zacharias (Perry Lopez, Creature from the Black Lagoon) and the other is commanded by Jack and Tony Romero. Two LAPD officers, Sid Reiner and Phil Nozaki are also on the case, trying to figure out who killed the drug dealers at the arcade.

This is the first Death Wish film where Paul feels more like an urban James Bond than a fed up war vet. Trust me, he gets even more gadgets in the next one. Here, he uses his skills as a master of disguise — he has none — to dress as a waiter and serve a party at Zacharias’ house. The birthday cake is…man, let me just show you the birthday cake.

After witnessing the drug lord kill one of his guys who stole some cocaine, he’s ordered to help carry out the body. Soon, he’s killing all of that drug dealer’s men, including three guys in an Italian restaurant with a bomb shaped like a wine bottle. Look for a really young Danny Trejo in this scene!

After all that mayhem, Paul also starts wiping out the Romero gang one by one, including breaking onto a drug front and blowing it up with a bomb. Yet Nozaki ends up being on the take for Zacharias and tries to kill our hero and you know how well that works out. Now Paul looks like a cop killer, too.

In the stuntman piece de resistance of this one, the two drug lords are lured into an oil field shootout where Paul kills Zacharius with a high-powered rifle, instigating the fireworks. Nathan comes out to congratulate Paul, but sets him up with a car bomb. It turns out that the Nathan that Paul has met is a third drug lord (!) who set him up to take out all the competition. Then, two fake cops arrest Paul and take him downtown, but they’re really just trying to kill our hero. Again, you know how well that works.

The film ends with Detective Reiner searching for Paul out of revenge for his partner’s murder, the third drug lord kidnapping Paul’s woman and everything coming together in a parking lot and a roller rink where Paul uses an M16 with an equipped M203 grenade launcher to unleash holy hell.

Only the drug lord survives, holding Karen. She tried to escape and gets shot numerous times with a MAC 10 submachine gun. He tries to kill Paul but he’s out of bullets. Paul may be, but he still has a grenade, which he uses to blow the villain up real good.

The film closes with Reiner coming and ordering Paul to surrender and threatening to kill him if he walks away. “Do whatever you have to,” says the old gunfighter as he walks into the sunset.

For all the mayhem and madness throughout this film — keep in mind our hero just used an explosive device to decimate another bad guy just seconds before — this is a poignant ending. But of course, Paul — whether he wanted to use the new last name Kimble he came up with in this film or Kersey — would be back one more time.

Bronson made $4 million for this movie and in my opinion, he should have asked for more.

Death Wish 5: The Face of Death (1994): You think Paul Kersey has learned his lesson about love and loss? No way, pal. Now back in New York City in the witness protection program and going by Paul Stewart, he’s keeping a low profile by going to fashion shows with his super hot girlfriend (Lesley-Anne Down) who also has a young daughter named Chelsea who is surely doomed. Come on, everyone. We’ve made it this far. We may as well watch Death Wish 5: The Face of Death.

It turns out that Olivia has been paying protection money to her evil mobster ex-husband Tommy O’Shea, who is Michael Parks! Paul confronts the guy at the fashion show, but one of the villain’s goons shows him his revolver. He tries to do the right thing and brings in a District Attorney.

Paul again proves he has no short or long-term memory by proposing to Olivia, who doesn’t understand what we all have accepted: God hates Paul Kersey like He has never hated another of His creations. Excusing herself to the powder room to piddle in absolute joy after being asked to be the life partner of a man who has personally murdered thousands of scumwads, one of Tommy’s men named Flakes (Robert Joy, Lizard from The Hills Have Eyes and, as my wife would exclaim loudly, Jim from Desperately Seeking Susan) shoves her face so hard into a mirror that she’s disfigured for life. Even surgery won’t fix her face. Such is the life of a woman who gets involved with Paul Kersey.

After meeting two cops, Mickey King (Windom Earle from Twin Peaks!) and Janice Omori, the female cop dies in the very next scene. She must have gotten a little too close to Paul. In the hospital, King tells Kersey not to go back to his old ways. King tells him that he’s been on this case for 16 years. “16 years? That’s a long time to be failing,” replies Kersey.

Even after getting out of the hospital, Olivia still has to deal with the life she’s chosen as more henchmen come after Paul, shooting her in the back and finally ending her suffering. Well, it turns out that Tommy runs all of the police and has taken his daughter back, so Paul goes full on 007 by killing one goon with poisoned canoli and another with a remote-controlled soccer ball! At this point, this film has gone from boring to right where I want it to be.

What follows is exactly what we want to see: a slasher movie with the righteous Paul going old man nutzoid on every crook there is left, shooting them into sewing machines, slashing their faces with broken bottles and shotgun blasting them into acid baths. At the end, he walks away with his dead fiancee’s daughter, yelling to the cop who couldn’t keep up, “Hey Lieutenant, if you need any help, give me a call.”

After the last three movies coming from Cannon Films, which was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy and under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, this one comes from Menahem Golan’s new 21st Century Film Corporation. They were having trouble making money and figured that a new Death Wish was going to be a sure-fire hit. Incredibly, for reasons no one is sure about, Bronson and Golan weren’t speaking during the filming, so they’d only communicate through Allan A. Goldstein.

Sadly, the film failed at the box office (but it did fine on home video). Golan planned to continue the film series without Bronson (!) and was planing Death Wish 6: The New Vigilante before 21st Century Film Corporation went bankrupt. This would be Bronson’s last theatrical film, as he was 71 years old as this was being filmed.

Death Wish (2018): Written by Joe Carnahan (writer and director of Smokin’ Aces and the movie version of The A-Team, as well as a member of the Creative Council of Represent.Us, a nonpartisan anti-corruption organization) and directed by Eli Roth (Cabin FeverThe Green Inferno), Death Wish was a movie delayed several times by the rampant mass shootings in our country. It arrives at a time when the debate over guns has reached a fever pitch. That said, one viewing of The Killing of America, made way back in 1982, shows that that argument has been going on almost the entire way back to the original Death Wish series.

Do we need another Death Wish? After all, there were five different movies already. Is there something new that the film can speak to? This one attempts to, with numerous blips of info from various media sources as diverse as Chicago DJ Mancow, memes and the site mediatakeout to hip hop’s Sway in the Morning.

Paul Kersey (Willis) and his wife (Elisabeth Shue) are getting ready to say goodbye to their daughter Jordan before she goes to college. After lunch at a restaurant, a valet looks up their home address on their car after hearing they’ll all be out that night. However, Paul gets called into his job as a trauma surgeon — instead of an architect — leaving his family alone at home. This being Death Wish, I’m certain we can all guess what happens next.

Police Detective Kevin Raines (Dean Norris, Starship Troopers) and Detective Leonore Jackson are the cops in charge of the case, but they aren’t getting anywhere. Jordan remains in a coma while Paul grieves for his dead wife, including trying to stop a mugging which ends up with him being beaten. He debates buying a gun but realizes he’ll have to register it and be videotaped (the film wavers here between gun ownership being too easy and providing the right info).

A patient drops a Glock 17 while Paul tries to save his life and thanks to online videos, Paul learns how to use it. Soon, he’s stopping carjackings and killing drug dealers and has been dubbed the Grim Reaper by the media.

When Paul recognizes his stolen watch on a man’s wrist, he uses that man’s phone to get closer to the men who destroyed his family. One by one, he eliminates them before realizing that his actions have brought his family — daughter Jordan, who has emerged from her coma, and brother Frank (Vincent D’Onofrio) — into the killer’s sights.

Paul then uses his legally purchased weapons to defend his home, the police come after its all over and our hero easily explains that he’s not the Grim Reaper. Free of consequence, he’s able to take his daughter to college in New York City. There, he sees a mugging and stares right at the criminals, making the same finger pistol mannerism that Bronson used at the end of the first Death Wish. Interestingly enough, this is an inversion of the original film’s ending, where Kersey moves from New York City to Chicago.

Seeing as how director Eli Roth loves exploitation films, there are plenty of references, such as Paul telling a criminal that he’s torturing that he’s about. to put them into “the most pain a human can endure before going into cardiac arrest,” a fact discovered by scientists of Unit 731 and chronicled by the movie Men Behind the Sun. That scene also uses the Sorcery song “Sacrifice,” which comes from the film Stunt Rock (Sorcery also played the band Headmistress in Rocktober Blood). And a trivia note just for my wife: the last movie that Elisabeth Shue and Vincent D’Onofrio appeared in together was Adventures in Babysitting, which also takes place in Chicago.

This isn’t a bad film. But there’s no real reason for it to exist as it says nothing new other than being a serviceable action film. It’s been criticized as alt right and racist, but I think any Death Wish film is going to be branded the same way. I thought it was pretty even in its depiction and had plenty of different voices throughout.

Want to know more about Death Wish?

Death Kiss: This 2018 film features Bronson clone Robert Bronzi.

A breakdown of cover versions of Death Wish: From two Turkish remakes to an adult version, there have been plenty of Death Wish ripoffs.

Cellat: The Turkish Death Wish somehow gets parts of the second movie into their story years before it was filmed.

I recommend both books by Paul Talbot, Bronson’s Loose: The Making of the Death Wish Films and Bronson’s Loose Again: On the Set with Charles Bronson. You can also read our interview with him.

For more info on all things Cannon, get Austin Trunick’s The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984.

You can also check out these episodes of The Cannon Canon:

Watch the series: Wild Things (2004, 2005, 2010)

Editor’s note: To check out Wild Things, click here.

Wild Things 2 (2004): Directed by Jack Perez (Unauthorized: The Mary Kay Letourneau StoryUnauthorized: Brady Bunch – The Final Days) and written by Ross Helford (who also wrote the Sniper sequels) and Andy Hurst (who wrote the sequel to Single White Female), this movie does credit Stephen Peters for characters, but there’s not a single continuing character. In fact, it’s pretty much the same story and a very similar threesome scene, which you’ll soon discover just might be the defining moment of any movie called Wild Things.

Brittney Havers (Susan Ward) is a wealthy Florida high school senior who has list her mother to a car crash on Gator Alley — where she was presumably devoured by alligators — and her stepfather Niles Dunlap (Anthony Denison, who was Joey Buttafucco in The Amy Fisher Story, the Drew Barrymore one) has just died when his private plane went down. She’s about to earn a small amount of money each year until she’s done with college and then $25,000 a year, with the rest of the will — $70 million dollars worth — going to an heir if they can be found. That heir ends up being one of her classmates, Maya King (Leila Arcieri).

We soon see Brittney, Maya and the DNA test doctor all having some MFF action, which clues us in that this is all a ruse. Insurance investigator Terence Bridge (Isaiah Washington) thinks that it’s a scam too, as Dunlap once had scarlet fever and was possibly sterile. That means the DNA doctor is a crocodile meal and then, well, the twists and turns start to add up. Dead people are alive, partners get double-crossed, people on the side of the law aren’t and there’s even an open ending that makes you think that the backstabbing hasn’t stopped.

Imagine if they just redid the first one, had no major stars, still had the threesome scene and shot it like a prime time soap opera. That’s kind of a success in my book.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Wild Things: Diamonds in the Rough (2005): I love when a movie can be sold just on the title and doesn’t need to be tied into anything in any of the other movies in the series. So here we go. Another Wild Things, this one directed by Jay Lowi (Tangled) from a script by Andy Hurst and Ross Helfer, the same guys who wrote the last one.

Marie Clifton was given two diamonds — the “mother and daughter” — in her mother’s will, but her step-father Jay Clifton (Brad Johnson, who was in Nam Angels and was also a former Marlboro Man) has changed the will because he wants them for himself.

Meanwhile, there’s a sex ed seminar at school with Dr. Chad Johnson and probation officer Kristen Richards (Dina Meyer, once Batgirl on Birds of Prey as well as roles in D-ToxStarship Troopers and Saw), who reveals that she was the victim of a sex crime when she was in high school, which totally shuts down the raucous senior audience.

Now here’s where the Wild Things drama comes in: Marie has a swim meet and her stepfather meets towel girl Elena Sandoval (Sanda McCoy, who was in the secret Porky’s movie Porky’s: Pimpin’ Pee Wee), who he invites to Marie’s eighteenth birthday party. The girls do not get along — that’s putting it mildly — so Jay takes her to one of his construction sites and you know what happens next allegedly. Now, Detective Michael Morrison (Linden Ashby) and Richards are on the case, along with Dr. Johnson, who is to examine Elena.

If you’re wondering how long it takes until Marie, Elena and the doctor are all reenacting scenes from You, Me and Dupree, it’s about as long as it takes to read this sentence.

But man, the twists and turns of this one are so plentiful that they take one of the things that worked so well in the original movie and show how it all came together over the credits. And for some reason, the good guys actually come out on top in this one.

How much sex, illegitimate children, gator eating and swamp chases can one small Florida town have? Well, they made four movies out of this. There’s your answer. This one has the sense to just go wild — no pun intended.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Wild Things: Foursome (2010): Each Wild Things movie seems like a remake of sorts. This installment has Andy Hurst, who wrote the second and third, directing and a script by Howard Zemski and Monty Featherstone, the team who wrote Sharkman.

The major difference is that this time, we’re talking about twenty-year-olds and not high schoolers. Carson Wheetly (Ashley Parker Angel, who was in O-Town) is the rich and spoiled son of NASCAR car racer Ted Wheetly (Cameron Daddo). He thinks his dad may have killed his mother, but first, let’s get to this movie’s other main difference.

Whereas every Wild Things is built around a threesome, this one goes one better and has, as the title spoils for you, a foursome between Carson, his girlfriend Rachel Thomas (Marnette Patterson), Brandi Cox (Jillian Murray, Cabin Fever 3: Patient Zero) and Linda Dobson (Jessie Nickson).

Within a few days of that MFFF miracle — surely Carson is some level of science fiction character or at least a former boy band member — his father dies in a car crash that Bruno Mattei’s some Days of Thunder footage. That death is suspicious, so Detective Frank Walker (John Schneider, who may know a thing or two about car crashes) starts to investigate just as the will is announced, which states that Carson cannot inherit his father’s money and estate until he turns thirty or marries.

That means a quick marriage to Rachel, but they had a deal with everyone in the foursome, so Brandi and Linda seem to be dead meat, except that Rachel and Brandi are also working together to kill Carson. Once the girls end up — spoiler warning — using sex to kill Carson, they start conspiring to keep making love and attempting to murder one another.

This is the sort of movie that keeps the twists coming after the credits roll. All I have to say is keep your eye on lawyer George Stuben (Ethan Smith).

I miss the swamps of the other movies, but appreciate that this one is all about death and sex, which let’s face it, all giallo should be. It doesn’t get to that level, as it needs more fashion and better music, but it certainly has the sleaze — well, homogenized 2000s sleaze — going for it.

I kind of wish there was a fifth movie just to see if they’d get a fiveway into it.

Consider Tubi the Wild Things network, because they have every one of these movies.

 

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 29: Watch the series: Freaky Friday (1975, 1996, 2003, 2018, 2020)

Freaky Friday started as a novel written by Mary Rodgers, based on Vice Versa: A Lesson to Fathers by F. Anstey, a story in which the protagonists are father and son. In Rodgers’ book, 13-year-old Annabel Andrews and her mother spend time in each other’s bodies. The novel was so popular that Disney as made it four times an Rodgers also mae several sequels herself, such as A Billion for Boris/ESPTV and Summer Switch (which ABC made into TV movies). The major difference between the novel and the films is that an outside influence switches the mother and daughter against their wills.

Freaky Friday (1976): “I wish I could switch places with her for just one day.” That’s all it takes to start off this crazy adventure for Ellen Harris (Barbara Harris) and her daughter Annabel (Jodie Foster).

Based on the 1972 novel by Mary Rodgers — who also wrote the screenplay — the magic that switches the mother and daughter in this movie is quite simple. In Friday the 13th, all you have to do is say, “I wish I could switch places with her for just one day” and it happens.

Actually, this whole thing reminds me of Goofy Minds the House, a 1977 Disney Wonderful World of Reading storybook that features the character Goofy and his wife switching jobs for one day and learning that they both have rough lives. That story was based on a Norwegian folktale and taught me that women were much stronger than men. Also — Goofy once had a wife named Mrs. Geef and Mrs. Goof, but now he’s thought to be dating Clarabelle the Cow, so something happened at some point. Perhaps even odder, Goofy was once called Dippy Dawg.

But I digress.

Just as much as that story is part of my childhood, so is Freaky Friday, a movie that I know for a fact that I saw at the Spotlite 88 Drive-In in Beaver Falls, PA.

Ellen Andrews and her daughter Annabel are constantly battling with one another until they switch places, which enables each of them to see life from the other side, connect better with other people and, of course, water ski.

The cast of this movie is made up of people that a five year old me would see as big stars, like John Astin, Dick Can Patten, Charlene Tilton, Marc McClure and, of course, Boss Hogg. Strangely enough, George Lucas wanted Foster for the role of Princess Leia, but her mother wanted her to complete her contract to Disney.

Disney can’t seem to stop remaking this movie. And really, no one else can either, because it’s the mother of body switch comedies, including 18 Again!All of Me, Dream a Little DreamVice Versa and Freaky, a film which combines the Friday the 13th of this story with the slasher side of the holiday.

Freaky Friday (1995): This made-for-TV movie has Shelly Long as Ellen and Gaby Hoffman (the daughter of Warhol superstar Viva) as Annabelle. A pair of magical amulets causes the two of them to switch bodies in this version and waterskiing has been replaced with diving.

Ellen is also a single mother dating Bill (Alan Rosenberg) and designing clothing, which is the 90s version of being a housewife. What livens this up is a great cast with Drew Carey, Sandra Bernhard, Carol Kane and the much-missed Taylor Negron.

Writer Stu Krieger wrote The Parent Trap IIA Troll in Central ParkZenon: Girlof the 21st Century and Phantom of the Megaplex while director Melanie Mayron is probably best known for playing Melissa Steadman on Thirtysomething even though she has more than sixty directing credits on her resume.

The other big change is that when Annabelle is in Ellen’s body, she tells Bill exactly how much she dislikes him, thinking it will push him away. Instead, he proposes.

Forgive me for being weird, but…do these characters ever have to make love in these bodies? Because, well, that could be awkward.

Freaky Friday (2003): I spoke too soon about the sexual side of Freaky Friday, as this movie, while chaste, does not shy away from the fact that Jake (Chad Michael Murray) has feelings for Anna (Lindsay Lohan) no matter if she’s in her body or the body of her mother, Tess (Jamie Lee Curtis). The attraction that Jake feels, while mental, is way hotter than the way Marc McClure reacted to Barbara Harris.

Written by Heather Hach (Legally Blonde: The MusicalWhat To Expect When You’re Expecting and a gym teacher in this movie) and Leslie Dixon (OverboardLoverboy, the 2007 Hairspray) and directed by Mark Walters (who worked with Dixon again on Just Like Heaven; he also directed Mean GirlsGhosts of Girlfriends Past, the gender-swapped He’s All That and Mr. Popper’s Penguins), this take on the story retains the single mother idea from the 1995 TV movie and has Mark Harmon play Ryan, the potential new father in Anna’s life.

Lohan’s character was originally written as a goth girl and she didn’t think anyone would relate to that, so she showed up dressed like a preppie. Somehow, she was convinced to play a grunge girl instead. I mean, she has a band called Pink Slip and plays guitar instead of water skiing or driving.

The McGuffin that drives this film is a pair of fortune cookies mixed with an earthquake switches bodies for Anna and Tess, which leads to Anna lecturing teachers and Tess being more loud and wild.

As for the casting, it really works. The original idea was for Jodie Foster to play Tess, but she didn’t like the stunt casting. Then, Annette Bening and Kelly Osbourne were going to be the leads — with Tom Selleck as Ryan — but Bening dropped out and Osbourne’s mother got cancer.

Probably the only downside is that this movie falls back on that Hollywood cliche of Asian people being able to magically change lives.

Is it weird that I know that the band Orgy taught Jamie Lee how to play guitar? Why do I have these facts inside my head? And how weird is it to hear “Flight Test” by the Flaming Lips in a Disney movie? Or Joey Ramone covering “What A Wonderful World?”

Freaky Friday (2018): It’s wild that Steve Carr made Next Friday and a Freaky Friday sequel. And this time, I had no idea I was getting into a musical. Cozi Zuehlsdorff from the Dolphin Tale movies is Ellie Blake and her mother Katherine is played by Heidi Blickenstaff, who played the role on stage. Seriously, this is a full-blown bing singing musical and also a version of the story that leans in on Ellie being a total slob with a filthy room, a girl who always wears the same clothes every day and who would totally be the kind of arty disaffected young girl who I’d be too shy to talk to and leave mixtapes in her locker. Or maybe text her Spotify links now, I guess, right?

A magical hourglass — given to Ellie by her late father, a Freaky Friday story beat retained from the last few versions — is the storytelling device that switches the daughter and mother. There’s also a scavenger hunt that an entire school is absolutely obsessed by, making this also an updating of Midnight Madness.

This was the first Disney movie made from one of their stage plays and it didn’t get great ratings. It’s fine — obviously there are a ton of different versions of Freaky Friday for you to watch. I’d place it slightly ahead of the Shelley Long version, but way behind everything else.

Freaky (2020): By all rights, I should hate this movie, a semi-remake of Freaky Friday that instead subverts the source material by turning it into a slasher. But you know, it ended up hitting me the right way and I was behind it pretty much all the way.

Directed by Christopher Beau Landon — yes, the son of Michael — who wrote Disturbia — that’s not even a word — and several of the Paranormal Activitymovies before directing the Happy Death Day films. If you liked those, well, this will definitely give you more of what those movies offered, this is set in the same universe — Landon said that, “They definitely share the same DNA and there’s a good chance Millie and Tree will bump into each other someday” — and was originally titled Freaky Friday the 13th.

Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton, Big Little Lies) is a teenager who has been tormented by bullies, both of the teenager and teacher* varieties. Meanwhile, the urban legend of the Blissfield Butcher continues, as he keeps killing her classmates. Now that he possesses a McGuffin called La Dola — an ancient Mayan sacrificial dagger — he looks to gain even more power. But when he runs into our heroine — her mother (Katie Finneran, who is great in this) has left her behind at a football game where all she gets to do is wear a beaver mascot costume — she battles the Butcher and when he stabs her, they end up switching bodies.

So yeah — this turns into a body swap comedy and you’d think, after the gory as hell open, this is where they lose you. But no — if anything, this gets way more fun.

Millie’s friends make for some of the best scenes in the film. Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) have been with her through the worst parts of high school, so having their best friend in the body of a killing machine is just another trial to be endured.

Speaking of that killer, Vince Vaughn shines in this. There’s plenty of silly physical comedy, but also some really nice scenes like when he admits to the love interest that she left the note he treasures (body swap pronouns are a little hard) or when he has a moment with her mother while hiding in a changing room.

Landon — who wrote the movie along with Michael Kennedy — said that the film was influenced by the Scream series, along with Cherry FallsFright NightJennifer’s BodyThe Blob and Urban Legend. There’s also a fair bit of Halloween in here, particularly the opening series of murders, and references to Heathers, Child’s Play, Creepshow, Galaxy Quest, Carrie, The Faculty, The Craft and Supernatural. There’s also a bottle down the throat kill that came directly from the 2009 slasher remake Sorority Row.

I had fun with this. Here’s hoping you do the same.

*The funny thing is that the teacher that is the worst to her is Alan Ruck, who knows a thing about bring bullied, what with playing Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 29: Watch the series: Friday (1995, 2000, 2002)

Ice Cube and DJ Pooh felt that movies only showed the dark side of the urban experience. Cube had the vision of making a “hood classic” that would be rewatched over and over again and based much of the script — only the third he had written — on his life. They got New Line interested in the film — the studio had made House Party — and Cube hired video direct F. Gary Grey.

His only worry? Doing comedy when up until then, he was considered a dangerous thug.

Grey said, “Ice Cube was the toughest man in America, and when you take someone (who) delivers hard-hitting social issues in hardcore gangsta rap, and who has a hardcore view on politics, you would never think comedy.”

Friday (1995): Craig Jones (Ice Cube) just got fired on his day off (this actually happened to one of Cube’s cousins), giving him the entire Friday to spend with his best friend, Smokey (Chris Tucker, a comedian whose first audition didn’t go well but who trained, came back and won the part). They smoke Smokey’s stash — $200 worth of weed — and if they can’t pay Big Worm (Faizon Love) by 10 p.m., they’re dead.

The episodic movie finds Craig and Smokey trying to get that money, whether through borrowing, begging or stealing. They also run into Deebo (Tiny Lister Jr.), a gigantic maniac who forces Smokey to break into a house, after which he steals the money that Smokey has ripped off.

Friday seems like a modern day take on Cheech and Chong in the best of ways, while keeping more focus. It also has time for plenty of great cameos, like the sadly long gone Bernie Mac as a preacher, John Witherspoon as Craig’s father, Regina King as his sister and DJ Pooh as Red.

Shot in Grey’s actual home block in the homes of his friends, you can even see some members of the neighborhood show up that refused to move from the spot they were in. Grey just filmed around them as well as he could. Additionally, the cast and crew not to wear anything red during filming, as 126th Street between Halldale and Normandie was Crips territory.

Friday made more than eight times what it cost to make. Ice Cube and DJ Pooh had the right idea.

Next Friday (2000): Written by Ice Cube and directed by Steve Carr, who also worked with Cube on Are We There Yet?Next Friday made $60 million off an $11 million budget, defying critics who hated the films — again, much lilke Cheech and Chong.

When Deebo escapes from prison to get revenge on Craig, Craig’s father Willie moves him to Rancho Cucamonga to live with his uncle Elroy (Don D.C. Curry), who has just won the lottery, and cousin Day-Day (Mike Epps). Day-Day makes a decent replacement for Smoky, as Chris Tucker didn’t come back for the second movie as he became a born again Christian.

Beyond dealing with the threat of an escaped Deebo, now Craig and Day-Day must avoid baby mamas, a gang called the Jokers and try to keep Day-Day’s record store job. While the move to the suburbs offers some fun joke, Tucker’s prescence is definitely missed. Then again, I find myself loving that Ice Cube is so loveable in these films, particularly after albums like “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted” in which he unleashed venomous hatred on nearly every ethnicity and human being within the reach of his booming voice.

Friday After Next (2002): Written by Ice Cube and directed by Marcus Raboy, the third Friday movie again was rejected by critics and embraced by the audience that it was made for. It starts on Christmas Eve as a thief breaks into the home of Craig (Cube) and Day-Day (Mike Epps), stealing everything they’ve bought for their family and friends. Also — the rent is due and if they don’t get it soon, their landlady is going to unleash her just released from jail son Damon (Terry Crews) on them and in a violently loving fashion, if you get what I’m saying.

The setting in this sequel moves from the suburbs to a strip mall, a place where their fathers — Willie (John Witherspoon) and Elroy (Don D.C. Curry) — have started a BBQ place so good you’ll slap your mother. It’s also where Money Mike (Katt Williams) and his main girl Donna (K.D. Aubert) have started the store Pimps and Hoes.

Obviously, by the third movie you’re just hoping for more hangout time with the leads and less expecting a groundbreaking effort. That said, this is a goofball bit of harmless fun, a good holiday movie to throw on if you’re sick of the same films every December and makes me hope that we get one more of these movies.

Somehow, I never saw a single one of these movies before, but I must confess, they made a nice break this week, a breezy bit of fun and light laughs in the midst of dark times.

WATCH THE SERIES: Watchers

Dean Koontz — whose own website proclaims him as the “International Bestselling Master of Suspense” — has sold over 450 million copies of his books, but it always seems like he’s a little behind Stephen King. I mean, that’s not a bad thing, as King was just a monolith when it came to selling books. But Koontz was successful as well. as in the VHS rental wild late 80s and 90s, so many of his books became movies. Watchers, which is very, very loosely based on one of his books, has three sequels alone.

Other Koontz film adaptions include Demon SeedThe Passengers (based on his noel Shattered), WhispersServants of TwilightHideawayIntensityMr. MurderPhantomsSole SurvivorFrankensteinOdd Thomas and Black River.

Koontz’s golden retriever Trixie was often on his book jackets and even wrote two books, Life Is Good: Lessons in Joyful Living and Christmas Is Good. She was a service dog that had been trained by Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a charitable organization that provides service dogs for people with disabilities, an organization that Koontz discovered while writing his book Midnight. Over the years, he helped the group raise $2.5 million in funds, so Trixie was their gift to him. So you can see why having a supercanine golden retriever in a story made sense to him — which is what Watchers is all about.

Watchers (1988): It’s a rivalry as old as time: a golden retriever with special abilities battling the mutated monster known as the OXCOM (Outside Experimental Combat Mammal).

The dog soon makes friends with Travis Cornell (Corey Haim) and his girlfriend Tracey (Lala Sloatman, who was dating Haim; she’s also the niece of Frank Zappa and is in Amityville: A New Generation). Of course, the government wants the dog back, so they send NSO agent Johnson (Michael Ironside).

This movie kills everyone it comes across, with either OXCOM or Johnson basically wiping out a small town, whether to kill or to keep the murders secret.

Amazingly, this was originally written by Paul Haggis, who would go on to write Million Dollar BabyCrash and yes, create Walker Texas Ranger.

Watchers II (1990): Hey, I think that Marc Singer — he’s the Beastmaster — and Tracy Scoggins — from Dynasty and The Colbys — are fine replacements in this film that finds OXCOM and a golden retriever still battling one another.

Singer is a Marine gone AWOL. Scoggins is an animal psychologist from the top secret laboratory and the OXCOM still is a goofy rubber suit. And sure, this may be the same movie we just watched, but when has a sequel being the same as the first movie ever stopped us?

Screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris used the name Henry Dominic — the same alter ego they’d use for Bloodfist IIFlight of the Black AngelThe UnbornSevered Ties and Mindwarp — as neither were members of the Writer’s Guild of America. Brancato and Ferris would go on to write The Game, as well as The Net.

Thierry Notz also directed The Terror Within which makes a lot of sense once you see this movie.

Watchers 3 (1994): Oh yes, this third one was shot in Peru, executive produced by Roger Corman and has one of my favorites, Wings Hauser, in the middle of the never-ending war between mutant and mongrel. Yes, this time it’s the deformed Outsider, which lives only to kill, battling Einstein, a golden retriever with an IQ of 175.

To stop the monster, Hauser is put in charge of a squad of military men and criminals. Now if you’re thinking, “Would Roger Corman rip off Predator?” let me just say that yes, he would. He did. And he would do it again.

Written by the same man who penned Carnosaur 2, let me tell you, I will regret nothing on my deathbed except probably the time I spent watching this movie. Eh, who am I kidding? I’d watch it again if you asked with any nicety in your tone.

Watcher Reborn (1998): You know what you never realize as a kid? As bad of a director as George Lucas can be, he’s one of the few people able to reign in the hammy tendencies of Mark Hamill, who plays a detective in this one who has just lost his wife and son to a fire that was probably caused by a mutant because that’s how it goes.

Lisa Wilcox, Alice from A Nightmare On Elm Street 4 and 5, plays the scientist who introduces him to a golden retriever, this time named Alex and being not as smart as he was the last time, only having an IQ of 140. This one also has a pit bull and the man who ruined Night Gallery in syndication, Gary Collins, so you know that my heart is on the side of the animals and not the humans. I’m also on the side of all murderous mutants, because as Emily Dickinson wrote, “The heart wants what it wants, or else it does not care,” and we’ve gone about proving this inscrutable wisdom true ever since.”

Low Rawls — yes, the man who sang “You’ll Never Find Another Love like Mine” — has a cameo as a coroner, so if you ever get asked, “What do Lucio Fulci and Lou Rawls have in common?” and a gun is at your temple, I have provided you with the knowledge that will save your life.

Director John Carl Buechler ran Corman’s special effects team for some time before directing movies like DemonwarpCellar Dweller and Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood.

Should you watch the Watchers movies? Look, I don’t want to tell you what to do with your life. I mean, you could also ask, “Should you watch a hundred Jess Franco movies in one month?” The answer is always going to be yes for me as I try and get the highest of movie highs, no matter how bad the strain seems to be.

WATCH THE SERIES: Ator

Conan the Barbarian and its success just meant that Italians could go back to making the peplum films they made for more than a decade in the 50s. The locations were there, the props were easy and all it took was the germ of an idea to send tons of Italian filmmakers out and about to make their own sword and sorcery movies, like Franco Prosperi’s Gunan, King of the Barbarians and Throne of Fire, Umberto Lenzi’s Ironmaster and Michele Massimo Tarantini’s Sword of the Barbarians.

For my money, no one made a better barbarian movie on a smaller budget than Joe D’Amato with his Ator films. Made from 1982 to 1990, three of these four films were filmed by D’Amato under his David Hills name. The other one was directed by Alfonso Brescia and D’Amato didn’t like it! As for actors, the first three feature Miles O’Keeffe and the fourth has Eric Allan Kramer as his son.

Instead of just being a big dumb lunk like Conan is in the movies — we can discuss Conan being a thief in the books and comics any time you’d like — Ator is also an alchemist, scholar, swordmaster and even a magician who can materialize objects out of nowhere.

We’ve pulled together our past reviews of Ator’s films, added some content and put them all in one place to introduce you to these astounding movies and hopefully get you watching them.

Ator the Fighting Eagle (1982): Once, Ator was just a baby, born with the birthmark that prophesied that he’d grow up to destroy the Spider Cult, whose leader Dakar (a pro wrestler who appeared in Titanes en el Ring against Martín Karadagian) tries to kill before he even gets out of his chainmail diapers.

Luckily, Ator is saved and grows up big, strong and weirdly in love with his sister, Sunya. It turns out that luckily, he’s adopted, so this is only morally and not biologically upsetting. His father allows them to be married, but the Spider Cult attacks the village and takes her, along with several other women.

Ator trains with Griba, the warrior who saved him as a child (he’s played by Edmund Purdom, the dean from Pieces!). What follows are pure shenanigans — Ator is kidnapped by Amazons, almost sleeps with a witch, undertakes a quest to find a shield and meets up with Roon (Sabrina Siani, Ocron from Fulci’s batshit barbarian opus Conquest), a sexy blonde thief who is in love with him.

Oh yeah! Laura Gemser, Black Emanuelle herself, shows up here too. It is a Joe D’Amato movie after all.

Ator succeeds in defeating Dakkar, only to learn that the only reason that Griba mentored him was to use him to destroy his enemy. That said, Ator defeats him too, leaving him to be eaten by the Lovecraftian-named Ancient One, a monstrous spider. But hey, Ator isn’t done yet. He kills that beast too!

Finally, learning that Roon has died, Ator and Sunya go back to their village, ready to make their incestual union a reality. Or maybe not, as she doesn’t show up in the three sequels.

Ator is played by Miles O’Keefe, who started his Hollywood career in the Bo Derek vehicle Tarzan the Ape Man, a movie that Richard Harris would nearly fist fight people over if they dared to bring it up. He’s in all but the last of these films and while D’Amato praised his physique and attitude, he felt that his fighting and acting skills left something to be desired.

Ator the Fighting Eagle pretty much flies by. It does what it’s supposed to do — present magic, boobs, sorcery and swordfights — albeit in a PG-rated film. It’s anything except boring. And it was written by Michele Soavi (StagefrightThe ChurchThe SectCemetery Man)!

You can watch it on Tubi in either the original or RiffTrax version.

Ator 2 – L’invincibile Orion (1984): Joe D’Amato wanted to make a prehistoric movie like Quest for Fire called Adamo ed Eva that read a lot like 1983’s Adam and Eve vs. The Cannibals. However, once he called in Miles O’Keefe to be in the movie, the actor said that he couldn’t be in the film due to moral and religious reasons. One wonders why he was able to work with Joe D’Amato, a guy who made some of the scummiest films around.

Akronos has found the Geometric Nucleus and is keeping its secret safe when Zor (Ariel from Jubilee) and his men attack the castle. The old king begs his daughter Mila (Lisa Foster, who starred in the Cinemax classic Fanny Hill and later became a special effects artist and video game developer) to find his student Ator (O’Keefe).

Mila gets shot with an arrow pretty much right away, but Ator knows how to use palm leaves and dry ice to heal any wound, a scene which nearly made me fall of my couch in fits of giggles. Soon, she joins Ator and Thong as they battle their way back to the castle, dealing with cannibals and snake gods.

Somehow, Ator also knows how to make a modern hang glider and bombs, which he uses to destroy Zor’s army. After they battle, Ator even wants Zor to live, because he’s a progressive barbarian hero, but the bad guy tries to kill him. Luckily, Thong takes him out.

After all that, Akronos gives the Geometric Nucleus to Ator, who also pulls that old chestnut out that his life is too dangerous to share with her. He takes the Nucleus to a distant land and sets off a nuke.

Yes, I just wrote that. Because I just watched that.

If you want to see this with riffing, it’s called Cave Dwellers in its Mystery Science Theater 3000 form. But man, a movie like this doesn’t really even need people talking over it. It was shot with no script in order to compete with Conan the Destroyer. How awesome is that?

You can get this from Revok or watch Cave Dwellers on Tubi.

Iron Warrior (1988): 

I always worry and think, “What is left? Have I truly exhausted the bounds of cinema? Have I seen all there is that is left to see? Will nothing ever really surprise and delight me ever again?” Then I watched Iron Warrior and holy shit you guys — this movie is mindblowing.

Alfonso Brescia made a bunch of Star Trek-inspired Star Wars ripoffs in the late 70’s, like Cosmos: War Of the Planets, Battle Of the Stars, War Of the Robots and Star Odyssey. Before that, he was known for working in the peplum genre with entries such as The Magnificent Gladiator and The Conquest of Atlantis. And some maniacs out there may know him from his Star Wars clone cover version of Walerian Borowczyk’s The Beast — complete with the same actress, Sirpa Lane — called The Beast in Space.

Today, though, we’re here to discuss Brescia taking over the reins of Ator from Joe D’Amato after Ator the Fighting Eagle and Ator 2: The Blade Master. I expected another muddy cave dwelling movie livened up only by nukes and hang gliders. What I received was a movie where a frustrated artist was struggling to break free.

This movie goes back to the beginning of Ator’s life, where we discover that his twin brother was taken at a young age. Now, our hero travels to  Dragor (really the Isle of Malta) to do battle with a sorceress named Phaedra (Elisabeth Kazaand, who was in the aforementioned The Beast) her unstoppable henchman, the silver skulled, red bandana wearing Trogar (Franco Daddi, who was the stunt coordinator for both Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and The Curse), who is the Iron Master of the Sword.

Princess Janna (Savina Gersak, who was in War Bus Commando) and Ator (the returning Miles O’Keefe) join forces and man, Janna’s makeup and hair is insane. She has what I can only describe as a ponytail mohawk and has makeup that wouldn’t be out of place on the Jem and the Holograms cartoon.

Imagine, if you will, a low budget sword and sorcery film that has MTV style editing, as well as gusts of wind, constant dolly shots and nausea-inducing zooms. It’s less a narrative film as it is a collection of images, sword fights and just plain weirdness. Like Deeva (Iris Peynado, who you may remember as Vinya, the girl who hooks up with Fred Williamson in Warriors of the Wasteland) saying that she created both Ator and Trogar to be tools of justice? This movie completely ignores the two that came before — and the one that follows it — and I am completely alright with all of it!

Supposedly, D’Amato hated this movie. Lots of people hate on it online, too. Well, guess what? They’re wrong. This is everything that I love about movies and proved to me that there is still some cinematic magic left in the world to find.

How about this for strange trivia? When they made the Conan the Adventurer series in 1997, Ator’s sword was repainted and used as the Sword of Atlantis!

You can buy this from RoninFlix.

Quest for the Mighty Sword (1990): If there’s a 12 step group for people who watch too many Joe D’Amato movies, well I should be the counselor, helping talk people off the ledge after they think they need to watch Erotic Nights of the Living Dead or Eleven Days, Eleven Nights or…hell, I can’t do it. For all people heap scorn on the movies of the man born Aristide Massaccesi, I find myself falling in love more and more with each movie.

D’Amato hated what Brescia did with his creation, so he starts this one off by killing Ator and introducing us to his son. Obviously, Miles O’Keefe isn’t back.

This one has nearly as many titles as Aristide had names: Ator III: The HobgoblinHobgoblinQuest for the Mighty Sword and Troll 3.

That’s because the costumes from Troll 2 — created by Laura Gemser, who is in this as an evil princess — got recycled and reused in this movie. D’Amato proves that he’s a genius by having whoever is inside those costumes speak.

Let me see if I can summarize this thing. Ator gets killed by the gods because he doesn’t want to give up his magic sword, which he uses to challenge criminals to battles to the death. The only goddess who speaks for him, Dehamira (Margaret Lenzey), is imprisoned inside a ring of fire until a man can save her.

That takes eighteen years, because Ator the son’s mother gave the sorcerer Grindl (the dude wearing the troll costume) her son to raise and the sword to hide. She then asked him for a suicide drink, but he gave her some Spanish Fly and got to gnome her Biblically in the back of his cave before releasing her to be a prostitute and get abused until her son eventually comes and saves her because this is a Joe D’Amato movie and women are there to be rescued, destroy men and be destroyed by men.

This movie is filled with crowd-pleasing moments and seeing as how I watched it by myself, I loved it. Ator (Eric Allan Kramer, Thor in the TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns and Little John in Robin Hood: Men In Tights) looks like Giant Jeff Daniels and his fighting skills are, at best, clumsy. But he battles a siamese twin robot that shoots sparks, a goopy fire breathing lizard man who he slices to pieces and oh yeah, totally murks that troll/gnome who turned out his mom.

This is the kind of movie where Donald O’Brien and Laura Gemser play brother and sister and nobody says, “How?” You’ll be too busy saying, “Is that Marisa Mell?” and “I can’t believe D’Amato stole the cantina scene!” and “What the hell is going on with this synth soundtrack?”

Here’s even more confusion: D’Amato’s The Crawlers was also released as Troll 3. Then again, it was also called Creepers (it has nothing to Phenomena) and Contamination .7, yet has no connection with Contamination.

Only Joe D’Amato could make two sequels to a movie that has nothing to do with the movie that inspired it and raise the stakes by having nothing to do with the original film or the sequel times two. You can watch this on YouTube.

While there have never been any official Ator toys, check out the amazing custom figures that Underworld Muscle has made:

Thanks for being part of all things Ator. Which of the movies is your favorite?

WATCH THE SERIES: Eleven Days, Eleven Nights

You have to hand it to Joe D’Amato. Most people would just make one ripoff of 9 and 1/2 Weeks. Instead, Joe stretches his series of three films out to 33 days, which is a little under 5 weeks or around half as much time as its inspiration and there’s some goofy logic to that.

Actually it’s seven movies I learned after writing this, so that means that Joe hit 77 days, or 11 more than the 66 days of 9 1/2 weeks, so the numerology all works out, right?

While Adrian Lyne had Sarah Kernochan, Zalman King and Patricia Louisianna Knop to write his screenplay, Joe makes due with the team of Rossella Drudi and Claudio Fragasso for the first film. And what a film it is.

Eleven Days, Eleven Nights (1988): Sarah Asproon (Jessica Moore AKA Luciana Ottaviani AKA Gilda Germano, who also appears in Sodoma’s GhostConvent of Sinners and Top Model) is writing a book about her last one hundred lovers, but she’s only had ninety-nine. Then she meets Michael on a boat and despite the fact that he’s about to get married (Mary Sellers plays his fiancee Helen and you’ve seen her in StagefrightGhosthouse and The Crawlers), she makes him agree that they will be lovers for — everybody yell out the title — eleven days and eleven nights.

There’s an actual budget to this film and it was shot in New Orleans, so it has an American feel, which is exactly what late 80s Italian movies were shooting for. There’s even a moment where the couple go see Stagefright in a theater and Michael falls asleep, waking up to Helen remarking, “What a beautiful film. So touching! So romantic!”

So yeah, this movie has a honey scene just like the film that inspired it, but I kind of like this one better. D’Amato is at his best when he’s shooting gorgeous women being gorgeous and Moore is, well, one of those reminders that there just might be a God somewhere. A reminder that there may not be is the acting by her co-star Joshua McDonald and the horrible ending where she tells him that he was just being used to be in her book but fell in love, so he bends her over, takes her roughly from behind and leaves her for his boring fiancee. For a film that spent most of its running time with a heroine in charge of her sexuality, this was massively upsetting.

The moral: Don’t look for Italian sexploitation movies to have good messages.

Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 2 (1991): D’Amato and Drudi reteamed for this sequel in name only, even though the character of Sarah comes back. Now she’s played by Kristine Rose and has been married and separated and given the new job of the executor of the estate of Lionel Durrington, one of her past lovers and the richest man in Louisiana.

Guess what? This is actually the third film in the series because Sarah was the lead character in Top Model, which is also listed in plenty of places as Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 2. Look — it wouldn’t be Italian movies if it wasn’t confusing.

There are four heirs and one after another, they all get with our heroine, who will determine which one is worthy of the money based on how good they are in bed, one supposes. Sonny is the only one with no interest in Sarah, even when she danced for him at a strip club, but that’s because his last girlfriend was abused in front of him by friend of the family Alfred, who is also trying to get the money.

Because Italian films really don’t care about how insane or twisted — actually, this is what they run toward not from — things get, Sarah disguises herself as Sonny’s old lover and goes to the impotence institute and gets a rise out of him.

By the end, she realizes that no one deserves the money, so she comes up with a plan. She’ll write a book about the family and its secrets while they split the $500 million with a mystery person. They quickly sign and yeah, the mystery guy is the man who was supposed to be dead and we have a happy ending. We also have Laura Gemser in the blink and you’ll miss it role of Sarah’s jogging publisher and Ruth Collins from Lurkers, Doom Asylum and Prime Evil show up.

For a movie about people getting naked, D’Amato has plenty of women in sweaters show up. I’m all for this.

Also: This has also been listed as The Web of Desire and Eleven Days, Eleven Nights Part 4 because Italian movies are wonderful and confusing.

Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 3 (1989): Also known as Pomeriggio caldo (Hot Afternoon), this film points to the genius that is D’Amato. Instead of just making a sexual thriller — trust me, it still has plenty of sex — he worked with writer David Resseguier — who has to be a pen name for someone — to create this downright weird story of heading to New Orleans and just fading into it.

Someone says, “This is a place that paralyzes you. You don’t fall in love with a person here, but rather you become grossly obsessed with the environment. It’s not like our world.”

That’s what this movie is about, as well as the fact that a young reporter has come to the French Quarter to write about Nora, a woman who just lost her husband to voodoo. He takes along his wife, who plays a game with him where he encourages men to try to bed her while having no real interest in her. This predictably backfires and she leaves him for a muscular voodoo man — I am not making this up — and he starts going insane realizing what he’s lost. And oh yeah — he also gets to bed Nora, which seems like a way better thing than pining for someone he never really cared about.

Every actor in this movie is horrible and wonderful, often within the same scene, and it has an odd pace and overall sadness that keeps it from being fully erotic, which is awesome when you think about it. The scenery is great and then Laura Gemser shows up just to dance at a voodoo ritual and all movies should have her show up and dance and then get back to the story. Every one of the Disney Star Wars movies would be incredible if the woman who is forever Black Emanuelle would show up and writhe in a sweaty frenzy and then wave goodbye.

Seriously, I fell in love with this movie, which is kind of like a sexier — well, is that movie even sexy? — The Beyond with no house but a much more erotic bathtub scene.

Top Model (1988): Remember when I said there was another Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 2?

This time around, Sarah (Jessica Moore from the first movie) is still writing, but she’s gone undercover as a call girl, which was suggested by her publisher Dorothy (Laura Gemser). Using the name Gloria, she quickly becomes the top girl — some would say the top model — until someone figures out her secret and begins blackmailing her, which makes no sense as she’s already famous for a book where she slept with a hundred men.

She’s also got a crush on an IT guy named Cliff who thinks that he might be gay. I mean, if Jessica Moore is all over you and you need to question it, I’m not stepping on any LGBTQ landmines by saying that yes, you are gay. It’s fine, it’s a great choice and it’s probably what Cliff ends up choosing as the couple is divorced by the time the second part two in this series comes around.

But hey — how about that theme song?

To prove that America is the most puritanical country there is, there was an R-rated Top Model version made just for U.S. cable with still scenes replacing the lovemaking in motion and any reference to Cliff perhaps being gay cut from the film.

Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 5: Dirty Love (1988): I mean, this movie is totally Joe D’Amarto making Dirty Dancing and casting Jeff Stryker and  Valentine Demy, who went from waitressing to lingerie model to D’Amato star while she was 17.

D’Amato also throws Fame and Flashdance into the ripoff magic blender and emerges with a movie that has the sex those movies were missing and so much more to spare. Demy plays Terry, who leaves behind a small town where her father wants to pick out her husband and doesn’t want her to dance, so Footloose too?

This movie packs in all the sleaze you imagine that a Joe D’Amato movie called Dirty Love should have. In a world where movies don’t live up to their names or posters, for the most part Joe outdid himself every time.

If you’re watching this and wondering, “Where have I seen Robert before?” He’s Aimee Mann’s jerk of a boyfriend in the ‘Til Tuesday video for “Voices Carry.”

Bonus points for Laura Gemser showing up as a masseuse (and the costume designer).

Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 6: The Labyrinth of Love (1993): Valerie (Monica Seller, Dangerous AttractionMadnessLegittima Vendetta) travels to Saigon to work for a family that she soon seduces. I mean, the whole family. The matriarch. The widower. The grandfather. The gay college student? All of them.

I have no idea why a movie set in the 1930s is in the Eleven Days, Eleven Nights series, but you know, I tend to forgive Joe D’Amato all manner of things. Even when a movie is slow when it should be red hot eroticism, I say things like, “That’s a nice shot” or “I mean, Joe did make Buio Omega.”

Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 7: The House of Pleasure (1994): Lord Gregory Hutton (Nick Nicholson, who somehow was in both Apocalypse NowPlatoonThe Firebird ConspiracyWar Without EndSFX RetaliatorBorn on the Fourth of July and Beyond the Call of Duty, which means he either made up his IMDB listing or man, he’s been in the highest of the war movie highs and the lowest of the low) goes to the Far East on his honeymoon with his wife Eleanore. They stay on a silk farm and Eleanore falls for Lin, the young man of the house (Marc Gosálve, who is also in D’Amato’s China and Sex and Chinese Kamasutra).

This is one of those movies like Emmanuelle where a young wife finds her sexuality while her husband watches, but this has the technology of 1994, which means video cameras. And hey — Joe went to Asia to shoot this (along wih Tales of Red Chamber, China and SexThe Labyrinth of Love and Chinese Kamasutra), so there’s some production value.

For all the negativity heaped on the films of D’Amato, when he’s getting the opportunity to tell these simple stories and shoot beautiful women to some sexy sax, he always delivers. Are these movies essential watching? Or course not. Are they better than they should be? Definitely.

Thanks to Adrian on Letterboxd for transcribing the Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 3 quote above.

Apocalypse: The Film Series (1998 – 2001)

We’ve mentioned this influential film series in the context of a few of our other reviews this week. And it is “influencial,” as it certainly had an effect on David. A.R. White and his Christian Apoc-science fiction adventures through his PureFlix shingle: his first was Six: The Mark Unleashed (2004), followed with The Moment After and Revelation Road franchises, In the Blink of an Eye, and Jerusalem Countdown. And the producers behind his debut film, TBN, Paul and Jan Crouch’s Trinity Broadcasting Network (through their son Matthew), jumped into the apoc frays with their own, The Omega Code (1999).

The Apocalypse franchise’s roots date to 1994, when the brothers LaLonde, Peter and Paul — inspired by Hollywood’s A-List glut of films concerned with the world’s post-apocalypse survival*, such as Waterworld (1995), Independence Day (1996), Escape from L.A. (1996), and The Postman (1997), along with the “Lucifer’s Hammer” one-two punch of Armageddon and Deep Impact (1998), and Peter Hyams’s End of Days (1999) — formed Cloud Ten Pictures in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, to self-fiance their own, wholesome, family-oriented “end times” Christian films.

The four-film box set that’s easily purchased — as well as the individual films — online at secular and faith-based sites.

As they should: God invented the apocalypse, after all, in The Book of Revelation in The Holy Bible. It’s just not fair that the Somdomites and Gomorrahites of Tinseltown have the secular market cornered on what rightful belongs to Christians in the first place. Estus Pirkle has whole films (If Footmen Tire You, The Burning Hell, and The Believer’s Heaven) based on the Christian belief that God-hating Communists will jam sharpened bamboo shoots through our ear canals, cut people down from trees onto buried pitch forks, and dump the bodies of those who will not deny the Christ, into freshly bulldozed mass graves. Oh, and the child stealing and indoctrination centers where children will praise Fidel Castro.

Hey, don’t be scared, ye philistine. For the LaLonde’s are not as bibically crazed as Pastor Pirkle and a bit more subtle in frightening you into believing. Sure, with the same, faithful vigor as Christian apoc-progenitor Donald W. Thompson with his A Thief in the Night tetralogy franchise, but only with A-List (well, let’s just say, better) production values backed, not by church volunteers and “saved” community theater actors: but by real, actual actors.

Oh, what a cast these movies have!

The LaLonde brothers’ films have nothing on the early Revelation-based apoc’ers Six-Hundred Sixty Six (1972), and the Gospel Films (studios) 1981 double-whammy of the non-sequels Early Warning and Years of the Beast. Oh, yes, ye B&S About Movies Sadducees: If the subject matter’s rhythm doesn’t get you, the off-the-A-to-B List thespians surely will.

Prior to delving into the feature films business, the LaLonde brothers produced their own television series: a syndicated series that dealt with the very subject matter of their films: This Week in Bible Prophecy. That lead to their creating a series of hour-long documentaries between 1994 and 1997: The Gospel of the Antichrist: Exposed, Final Warning: Economic Collapse and the Coming World Government, Startling Proofs: Does God Really Exist, Last Days: Hype or Hope?, and Racing to the End of Time. Courtesy of the ratings and retail response to those early products, it was time for a (low-budget) sci-fi thriller based on upon their TV/video teachings. That first film became Apocalypse (1998), which spawned the tetralogy franchise: Revelation, Tribulation, and Judgement.

So successful the franchise that, by the time of the release of third film and before the fourth film, Cloud Ten Pictures was able to option the very book that inspired their film series: the 1995 worldwide best-seller Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Their 2000 – 2005 film trilogy based on that book series, which starred Kirk Cameron (Saving Christmas), culminated with a bigger-budgeted, crtically derided theatrical reboot, Left Behind (2014) with Nicolas Cage.

Okay, enough with the back stories. . . . Lets throw away the melon rind on the way to Eden and unpack the prophe-verse of Franco Macalousso and his deadly O.N.E. (One Earth Nation) squads. (In Donald W. Thompson’s franchise, it was known as U.N.I.T.E. – United Nations Imperium of Total Emergency, if you’re keeping an apoc track of the proceedings.)

Apocalypse I: Caught In The Eye Of The Storm (1998)

Unlike the rest of the films in the series, we’re dealing with a list of no-name (Canadian) actors fronted by the “leads” of Leigh Lewis and Richard Nestor (that’s them, disembodied floating-headin’ the cover, by the way) and Sam Bornstein, each with limited-and-fades-away resumes; Leigh Lewis’s Helen Hannah character is the lone throughline of the series.

As with Kurt Cameron’s Cameron “Buck” Williams in the Left Behind trilogy, Helen Hannah and Bronson Pearl (Richard Nestor) are award-winning journalists who stumble into the deadly plans of Franco Macalousso (Sam Bornstein), the President of the European Union. When the prophesied Rapture occurs and throws the world into chaos, Macalousso proclaims himself the true Messiah and enforces his will upon the world.

You can watch this one Tubi. And we have to note that the video suggestions link to all three of Kirk Cameron’s Left Behind films and Casper Van Dien’s The Omega Code duet, if you’re up to the challenge.

Apocalypse II: Revelation (1999)

What a difference “three months” after the last film, makes: Satan has transformed Franco Macalousso into (wait, he is Satan) . . . Nick Mancuso, of Nightwing and Death Ship?

This time, the tale centers on the exploits of Thorold Stone, a counter-terrorism expert . . . played by Jeff Fahey of The Lawnmower Man? A non-believer hellbent to prove The Rapture is a conspiracy, he stumbles into an underground, Christian resistance movement led by Helen Hannah, from the first film. But since actress Leigh Lewis is way out of her thespin’ element, here: bring in (not much better) supermodel Carol Alt as part of the resistance.

Oh, and Alt’s character is blind. And the European Union, now ruling the world as One Nation Earth, watched John Carpenter secular They Live one too many times, since O.N.E distributes virtual reality headsets to everyone on Earth to celebrate the “Messiah’s Day of Wonders.”

So, to make sure you’re following along: Satan, and not aliens, are doing the VR brainwashing of the puny humans. You got that?

You can watch this on Tubi.

Apocalypse III: Tribulation (2000)

Well, okay . . . so we lost Jeff Fahey and Carol Alt. But we still get a little bit of Nick Mancuso . . . and gain a Gary Busey, a Margot Kidder, and a Howie Mandel. We also get just what we do not need: a non-linear timeline that splits in half across the events that happened before Apocalypse I . . . then we flash-foward — two years — after the events in Revelation, aka Apocalypse II, you got that?

No?

Hey, we feel you, because the plot is bat-crap crazy and all over the place. Gary Busey’s Tom Canbono — from what seems like another movie spliced in — stars as a bitter police detective battling a mysterious group of cloaked psychic warrior-assassins (no, we are not kiddding) after his wife, his sister and brother-in-law (Margot Kidder and a pre-bald/Van Dyked Howie Mandel). However, before Canbono can save them, the psychics take control of his car and cause him to crash. . . .

Then begins the “other” movie: Busey wakes up from a two-years coma to discover The Rapture has occurred, 95% of the world follows Nick Mancusco’s lead, and those who don’t allow themselves to be branded with a “666” on their head or right hand, in the grand tradition of all things Christian, are beheaded. (Yeah, Christians love their broadswords and guillotines in these movies.) As for the “third” movie cut into this mess: Leigh Lewis is pushed even further down the callsheets with her Christian resistance annoyances to expose Nick Mancusco as the Antichrist.

See? Told you it was bat-crap crazy — joke inferring Nick’s Nightwing — which I should be rewatching — instead of this, intended. Yeah, it sure is a long, hard fall from starring with Steven Seagal in 1992’s Under Seige, hey, Nick and Gary? Too bad Steven didn’t star in Jeff Fahey’s role for part deux to really give us something to QWERTY about.

You can watch this on Tubi. You just gotta: Busey battles psychic warriors!

Apocalypse IV: Judgement (2001)

First, we get a gaggle nobody-heard-of-them-or-seen-since Canucks making a Christian apocalypse film. Then we get an Antichrist ruling via virtual reality headsets forced onto Carol Alt by Nick Mancusco. Then we get psychic warrior-assassins after Gary Busey.

What could possibly be left, you ask?

How’s about Corbin Bernsen (The Dentist) and Jessica Steen (the aforementioned Armageddon) starring as a Christian-centric Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in Adam’s Rib (1949) — itself remade as the romantic rom-com box office bomb Laws of Attraction (2004) starring Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore. Only they were battling divorce attorneys. And Tracy and Hepburn argued a case of women’s rights.

So, what are Bernsen and Steen arguing: a copyright infringement case on the VR headsets? Gary Busey’s malpractice suit? Perhaps a copyright infringement over stealing the plot from the Stephen King’s The Dead Zone in the last movie? (No, not 28 Days Later, that’s not until next year.)

Nope to all.

Nick Mancusco — yes, he actually stuck around for three installment of this utter non-sense — is now, officially, the Antichrist and he’s “suing” Helen Hannah — yes, the out-of-her-thespian element Canadian actress Leigh Lewis is still hanging around, making us wish Carol Alt’s hot blind chick signed for the sequel — for her crimes against humanity. Corbin Bernsen is the troped, milquetoast attorney assigned to kangaroo-court our fair jounalist-turned-Christian revolutionist. Jessica Steen is his bitchy, natch, ex-wife prosecutor assigned by Nick Mancusco to railroad the leftover 5% from the last film that haven’t accepted the Mark.

Hey, wait. Mr. T is on the box! What’s he doing, here? We’ll, he’s spliced in from another movie: he’s heading up The D-Team to break Hannah from prison. Does he use one of those nifty VR headsets to pull it off?

Ugh, I just don’t care, anymore. And how come all of these Christian apoc flicks never end with Brother J showing up, in this case, to beat down Nick Mancusco? At least Estus Pirkle — his sharpened bamboo and mass graves, be damned — wrapped it up and took us upstairs to The Believer’s Heaven, while Tim Ormond has Christ arriving on white horseback with a band of angels in The Second Coming.

The Supreme Court vs. The Supreme Being. Let the Trial Begin,” so says the box copy.

No. Just let this all end. Please. I believe! I believe! I won’t accept the Mark. Anything to makes these movies, stop.

* Hey, we known what we are talking about: we’re self-proclaimed apocalypse experts! So check out these featurettes rounding up all of our reviews of apoc’ers from the ’50s through the ’80s:

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

WATCH THE SERIES: A Chinese Ghost Story

Based on a short story about Nie Xiaoqian from Qing dynasty writer Pu Songling’s Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio and inspired by the 1960 Shaw Brothers movie The Enchanting ShadowA Chinee Ghost Story inspired more than just two sequels, an animated film, a television series and a 2011 remake. It also created an entire genre of folklore ghost stories.

Its director, Ching Siu-tung, studied in the Eastern Drama Academy and trained in Northern Style Kung Fu for seven years. His father, Ching Gong, was a Shaw Brothers director. While producer Tsui Hark got most of the credit for these films, Siu-tung has done well for himself, also directing The Swordsman series of movies and choreographing House of Flying Daggers and Shaolin Soccer.

In the first film, tax collector Ning Choi-san (Leslie Cheung) fails at his job and must sleep in a deserted temple. There, he falls in love with Nip Siu-sin (Joey Wong), yet discovers in the morning that she is a ghost forever enslaved to a tree demoness. When Ning tries to save her and fails, her soul goes to the underworld.

This film is a gorgeous meditation on unrequited love. Even with the help of Taoist priest Yin Chik-ha (Wu Ma), the best our hero can do is secure a better afterlife for his one true love.

1990’s A Chinese Ghost Story II starts with Ning and Yin parting ways, with Ning heading back to his hometown that has been overrun with cannibals. After being jailed and condemned to die, an ancient scholar reveals that he has dug an escape tunnel. He gives Ning a book and a pendant, then shows him the way to freedom.

In this film, Ning joins with Autumn (Jacky Cheung) and the rebel sisters Windy (Joy Wong) and Moon (Michelle Reis) to battle a demon that has taken over a mansion. And by demon, a mean a gigantic centipede that requires fighters to separate the souls from their bodies to defeat it.

Recently, Apple pulled the theme song of this movie from the Apple Music Store, as it features a reference to the masscre at Tiananmen Square Massacre:

“The youth are angry, and heaven and earth are shedding tears,

How did the rivers and mountains become a sea of blood?

How did the road to home become the road to ruin?”

Why would Apple pull a song that rightfully condemns China for their role in killing protesters? Well, you know how money works.

1991’s A Chinese Ghost Story III brings back the tree demon from the first film, a creature that is destined to return in a hundred years. This film is also about Monk Shi Fang (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) and Swordsman Yin (Jacky Cheung), named after the original Taoist. The tree demon also has a ghost in its thrall, Lotus (Joey Wong).

This is the kind of movie where towers rise to block out all the sun on Earth and Shi Fang’s body is coated in his own golden blood, which allows him to channel the power of the Buddha to bring the sun back. Basically, things get nuts.

If you fall in love with these movies, remember that there was a cartoon and a 2011 remake to keep you watching.

WATCH THE SERIES: Beastmaster

If you had HBO (Hey, Beastmaster’s On) or TBS (The Beastmaster Station) in the 1990’s, then you’re probably excited to read this. The Beastmaster series of three films ran pretty much non-stop on those channels, even if the first movie wasn’t a success.

Just like PhantasmBeastmaster came from the mind of Don Coscarelli. While he was only involved with the first movie, he set up the character of Dar (Marc Singer). Well, when I say came from the mind, Coscarelli loosely based his original story off of the novel The Beast Master by Andre Norton. In her book, the hero is a Navajo named Hosteen Storm and the story takes place in the future. Unhappy with the changes from page to screen, Norton asked for her name to be removed from the film’s credits.

The Beastmaster (1982)

Welcome to Aruk, where the prophecy of a witch reveals that the evil priest Maax (Rip Torn!) reveals that the son of King Zed (Rod Loomis, who was Freud in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) will eventually kill him. Although Zed exiles the villain, one of Maax’s witches transfers the baby who will become Dar the Beastmaster from his mother’s womb into a cow’s. Yes, I just wrote that. I’m still amazed that this happens.

Dar is rescued by a villager who raises him as her own son inthe village of Emur. This being a sword and sorcery movie, that whole town is destroyed by the Juns, barbarians under Maax’s command. Of course, Dar has been taught since childhood to fight and telepathically communicate with animals. As you do, you know?

Dar eventually puts together his animal familiar army of Sharak the eagle, Kodo and Podo the ferrets and a black tiger named Ruh. He also teams up with Kiri (Tanya Roberts), a slave girl, and even spends time wander amongst a half-bird, half-human race who let him go when they realize that he can speak to an eagle.

What follows are battles with Maax, an appearance by Good Times star John Amos, ferrets bravely sacrificing themselves, baby ferrets being born, Dar learning of his royal blood and birdmen battling barbarians.

Coscarelli didn’t have a good time making this, as he fought with the producers over editing and casting, such as his choice of Demi Moore over Tanya Roberts. Even sadder, Klaus Kinski was the original choice to play Maax!

Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (1991)

Sylvio Tabet produced the original Beastmaster film, as well as Evilspeak and Fade to Black. This is the one and only film that he ever directed.

This time around, Dar learns that he has a half-brother named Arkon (the amazing Wings Hauser) who is working alongside Lyranna (Sarah Douglas, who was Queen Taramis in Conan the Destroyer and Ursa in the Superman movies) to take over, well, everything. They are almost captured by our hero until they create a portal that brings them to modern day Los Angeles.

Dar, Ruh, Kodo and Sharak follow and battle them over a neutron bomb. Obviouslt, Arklon has seen Ator 2: The Blade Master. Luckily, our hero gets to work alongside rich girl Jackie Trent (Kari Wuhrer) and Lieutenant Coberly (James Avery from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, continuing the lineage of black friends of the Beastmaster coming from sitcoms). Robert Z’Dar also shows up, which is always nice.

Jim Wynorski (SorceressChopping Mall) was originally going to direct and wrote a screenplay before Tabet decided to direct. Luckily for Wynorski, he lawyered up and got to keep his name on the movie and make some money.

This movie completely ignores that Kodo died. And Dar’s mark of the beast switches hands from the last movie. Basically, if you’re into continuity, perhaps the Beastmaster movies aren’t for you.

Beastmaster III: The Eye of Braxus (1996)

Dar is back one more time, this time trying to rescue his brother, King Tal (finally grown up but now played by Casper Van Dien from Starship Troopers). He’s joined by Tal’s bodyguard Seth (no longer John Amos, but now Tony Todd, which make me audibly shout at 3 AM and wake up my entire house), a warrior woman named Shada (Sandra Hess, Mortal Kombat Annihilation), an acrobat named Bey and Seth’s ex-girlfriend, a sorceress named Morgana (Lesley Anne-Down of all people!).

They’re battling the slumming David Warner as Lord Agon, who has been sacrificing youngsters to shave years off his life. You know, the older I get, the more this seems like a great idea, because most kids I meet today are clueless. He’s also trying to release the dark god Braxus, who looks like a human dinosaur.

This one’s directed by Gabrielle Beaumont, whose was also behind the movie The Godsend and the Jamie Lee Curtis-starring TV movie about Dorothy Stratten, Death of a Centerfold. It was written David Wise, who was one of the main writers on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, so that may account for this one being the most family-friendly of the three films.

Three years after this movie, a syndicated series called Beastmaster lasted for three seasons and 66 episodes. It changes Dar’s story a bit and features Daniel Goddard instead of Marc Singer.

Amazingly, none of the Beastmaster films are available on blu ray in the U.S., although the Australian based Umbrella did release the first film in June of 2018. The disk claims it’s region B, but I’ve heard that it works on American blu ray players.

If you’re looking for all three films, VHSPS has them available on their site, transferred directly from video store copies.

BONUS: Listen to Becca and I discuss the second Beastmaster movie, one of her favorites ever, on our podcast: